Archive for January, 2011


January 31, 2011 2 comments

The International Symposium on Robotics Research is taking place in Flagstaff, AZ by end of August. This years event is organized by Oussama Khatib, Stanford and Henrik I Christensen, Georgia Tech. ISRR is considered one of the premier robotics conferences. The acceptance rate is very competitive and close to 35% of the speakers are invited based on a selection process performed by the officers of IFRR.

The call for papers for ISRR has just been published (check the conference website). Papers will be published in a volume of the Springer Tracts in Advanced Robotics (STAR) series. Deadline for submission of papers is April 15, 2011

The conference will be held at the Little America Facility at the edge of Flagstaff, AZ. One of the sessions will be held at the nearby Grand Canyon Village with a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon.

Categories: Conference/Meeting

Are we ready for an American Robotics Network?

January 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The last week I have started a discussion on the organization of an American Robotics Network. The issues as I see them involve:

  1. Creation of American Robotics Network – AMRON
  2. Research Coordination.
  3. Technology Transfer
  4. Educational Efforts
  5. Press Relations / Club of Journalists
  6. Liaison with other organizations
  7. Getting off the ground
  8. Questions to be considered. Need input
  9. Wrap-up

1. Creation of AMRON

We have come a long way with the CCC / National Robotics Effort in terms of defining a roadmap for robotics, getting it implemented in DC, raising awareness in US about robotics and starting to build a community across institutions. It may be time to move on to the creation of an American Robotics Network (AMRON)

Earlier efforts that have been successful include the European Robotics Network – EURON, that I was part of setting up. One could see AMRON as having 5-6 main trusts:

  • Maintaining the roadmap and promoting it to agencies, …
  • Consultations to US agencies on research, education and societal impact
  • Tech Transfer and Best Practice for setting up new companies in robotics
  • Educational initiatives and resources
  • Organization of a press club on robotics
  • Liaison with other organizations (internationally and nationally)

2. Research Coordination – Roadmap and Agency Consultations

We have already defined the first version of the roadmap. It will be important to maintain the roadmap over time and to work with agencies to see how the roadmap can be implemented. As initiatives are launched and results emerge the roadmap should be updated. Over time it would be helpful to have a number of benchmarks defined to have quantitative progress – beyond “we are doing great send more money”. Various benchmarks are emerging such as the manufacturing/logistics benchmarks, the perception challenge by Willow, … It would be great to have more measures. It makes it much easier to argue for resources with grand challenges and metrics to evaluate progress. It will be essential to make sure that the revision of the roadmap is carried out in close collaboration with the key industrial players such as RTC, RIA but also companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Motorola, C&S, iRobot, Willow,
Evolution, …

It is also important to provide support to organizations as to how they can implement part of the roadmap and how their programs relate to the wider effort. Within Cyber Physical Systems NSF is sponsoring a virtual organization – that provides such coordination and support.  We should have a similar effort within robotics.

3. Technology Transfer

It would also be helpful to have an effort to study ways to improve technology transfer and to discuss the main obstacles to transition of results to industry or start-ups. What are the main challenges and can we document a number of successful examples of how results can be achieved. EURON has an annual tech transfer competition where primarily
start-up competed to win the tech transfer award. The companies that win received a trophy, a small cash award, but also significant press / media coverage. The latter is a major attractor for companies. If you are a small start-up and you can get major coverage by CNN, NY Times, … it makes a big difference. The process of acquiring/generating the
IP, getting access to VC funding, building the product, marketing, … can be exemplified for other to learn from. Only when we build more successful examples of how robotics is more widely used can we expect to have major impact and acquire more support for robotics in general.

4. Educational Efforts

Big institutions have major educational programs. However, a majority of the researchers in robotics are from small
institutions where it may be difficult to organize a large coherent program and there is often a degree of isolation. It would be desirable to build up an educational repository with example lectures, example exercises, pictures of systems and robotics, a channel on youtube with robots, …  maybe even a national robotics twitter stream. …. The purpose is to provide inspiration for others as they prepare new courses, to provide easy access to educational resources, and reference examples. It is evident that companies such as National Instruments, MapleSoft, Mathworks, …. all  would love to provide support for such an effort. In the longer term one could also imagine organizing “summer schools/short courses” on specific topics. This has been done in Europe with great success.  By definition not everyone can have direct access to to the best lecturers and world experts. For graduate students senior/prominent researcher are often difficult to
access at conferences as we go to N>>1 meetings, socialize with our peers, …. At focussed schools/courses it is possible for students to get access and to talk to these researchers on a one on one basis, which is very valuable. At the same time these events creates a social network across junior researchers, which is extremely valuable to their future career in robotics.  AMRON should provide and promote mechanisms to make this possible.

5. Press Relations / Club of Journalists

It is of interest to all of us to build a press club with journalists from Scientific America, New Scientist, CNN, NY Times, Washington Post, Gizmodo, … to generate more awareness of robotics, but also to give them first access to the latest news. This has been done in Europe with success. We had a group of  journalists with an inside track to launching stories and they knew they would get first access. As an example at GT we have had CNN HQ in Atlanta and we have had 3 major robotics stories as part of the “The big-I” segment over the last 6 months. Such stories generates very significant awareness. AMRON should include  a press club to make sure that new autonomous cars, the latest medical robot, … are features in the best media. This is an efficient way to make decision makers aware that robotics is a big part of the future and not a job killer.

6. Liaison with other organizations

Obviously AMRON would not exist on its own and it will be essential to build relations with other organizations such as IEEE RAS, EURON, RIA, RTC, … This is important to build stronger international awareness but also to make sure that there is no unnecessary replication of effort.

7. Getting of the ground

It is anticipated that  start-up of the effort will be on a voluntary basis. It may be unrealistic to wait for a funding agency to sponsor such and effort, at least not initially. In the long term it may be possible to attract support from agencies, but also have industrial support from companies such as NI, Maplesoft, … To get AMRON off the ground we need at least:

  • a global mailing list (being set-up as but to moved to an official domain)
  • a web site with basic information
  • a way for new people to get engaged (to register for membership)
  • have area leads for each of the areas mentioned above

Once we have that we can start to build a professional organization. We would have to think about:

  • admission procedure for new member (simple models are OK)
  • organization of a board
  • election procedures to make it democratic / transparent
  • ….

For now I propose that we make it a relatively simple / lean organization to get things underway.

8. Questions – Need your input on

As people register I would like to use a web based mechanism to create yellow pages of all the groups involved so that we have a catalogue of research groups in the US. This is a valuable resource in its own right and would as an example help in mustering support for and by the congressional caucus on robotics.

A question that has been posed is the possible scope of this. Should we make this a purely US organization or should we try to engage research groups from Canada, Mexico, …. Love to hear your opinion about this.

I have had a number of discussions with people about this. Bill Thomasmeyer has indicated that RTC might be able to host an organization such as AMRON. What are your feelings about this? How do we build a relation to RIA to make sure that we are connected to some of the big industry players?


a) Is AMRON a good idea?
b) Is the outlined set of activities mentioned above the right ones
c) Are any of you ready to volunteer to be area leads?
d) Are you ready to assist in getting more people involved?
e) Should AMRON be American in a wider sense of US focussed?
f) Any opinions about managing AMRON through an organization such as RTC?

9. Summary

I would like to get this underway as soon as possible to make sure that we can leverage the momentum from a National Robotics Initiative. It will also be an important mechanism to make sure that we can maintain a push forward. Looking forward to hearing your feedback.

Categories: AMRON Tags: ,

FIRST FRC 2011 Launch

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

This morning US FIRST announced the design of the competition during the 2011 season. FIRST is an organization that encourages students (K-12 & Highschool) to engage in engineering challenges, such as building robots to develop their analytical / engineering skills. A FIRST team is required to provide all their own support to launch a successful entry. This implies that they need to organize a team, do fundraising to sustain their effort, develop a team website, design a robot, deploy it for the competition, do public relations work to promote their project and preferably do community outreach.

The competitions are designed to have groups of 3 teams compete another group of 3 teams. As part of a game the robot is required to initially do autonomous operation and subsequently it can be tele-operated. The design of the game is each year announced by early January. The teams then have 6 (six!) weeks to design their robot, built it, program it and test it. They are then shipped off the regional competitions. It is a major challenge to design these robots in minimum time and make them robust enough for participation in a significant number of matches. The teams are judged on aspects such as team spirit, sustainability, web design, outreach, … and the bots are judged on engineering inspiration, design, quality, … so there are many aspects to consider in the operations of a team and in the design of a new robot.

This years competition is termed – LOGOmotion – The robots are required to collect “rings” in different colors and mount them on a wall – preferably in the shape of the FIRST logo. At the end of a match they teams are encouraged to launch a mini-robot that can climb a pole to light up a marker. The mini-robots are to be built from parts from the FIRST FTC game. Teams that mentor an FTC teams thus have a serious advantage, and as such there is a promotion of broader engagement in the community. It is going to be very interesting to see how the teams approach this years challenge.

As usual the Georgia FIRST launch was hosted at Georgia Tech and had massive participation with more than 500 people in participation and more than 30 new rookie teams. The Peachtree Regional will take place 17-19 March 2011 at the Gwinett Center. More details at the Georgia FIRST web site

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,


January 4, 2011 1 comment

Welcome to the new year (2011). My old blog was at using iWeb from Apple. Great package to get you started with blogging, but after a while is it clear that the growth capabilities are fairly limited. Also you have to do all your blogging within iWeb. I travel a far bit and it is then convenient to be able to blog using a number of different platforms from PC/Mac, phone, tablet, netbook, not to mention the occasional web cafe. Most of these do not directly support iWeb. I am thus turning back to my old platform (wordpress).

My blog will continue to circulate around robots, photography, and travel. My main topics will likely be robotics. I have had the privilege to be a core member of the team that has pushed for a new national initiative in robotics. A significant group of people formulated a national roadmap for robotics sponsored by the CCC. The roadmap was presented to Congress May 2009. It has been picked up by a number of agencies such as NSF, NIST, DARPA, … and there is a concerted effort through OSTP to push for an agenda. This is highly encouraging.

As a side effort we are now as a group trying to launch a community based effort to have an American Network on Robotics (AMRON) that provides support for maintenance of a research roadmap, coordination of educational initiatives, liaison with industry and resources for dissemination of information to the broader community.

Categories: Uncategorized

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